Seeking the best food in the Mendocino/Fort Bragg area
Having just stayed at Stevenswood Spa Resort in Little River, Mendocino I can tell that they have their act together! The food was sublime and the service flawless. At every step the attention to detail and passion for their craft was visable. Our suite was nicely appointed and a bargain at $ 200. The area is known for shabby inns and lacking B&Bs but Stevenswood breaks that mold.
Our first night there we were warmly invited to join the owners for a wine tasting on their deck with sweeping ocean views. Nice guys with a sincere desire for every guest to enjoy their visit -- you can just tell they enjoy what they do.
I counted 11 different staff people and later learned that they actually employ 28 people; for a 10 unit lodge! That's nearly 3 people for every room. No wonder the service is impecable.
After wine we had a fabulous meal in their small dinning room, The Restaurant at Stevenswood and it lived up to their famous reputation for award winning food in an atmosphere of luxury without being stuffy.
I had a crab martini that was creative, delicate and delicious; served in a chilled martini glass, with a cocktail fork and even an olive :)
Mary had the pine nut crusted salmon that literally melted in her mouth!
The best part for me was the dessert -- Pumpkin Creme Brulee that I will cherish memories of forever.
To top it off, we had one of the best breakfasts I can recall the next morning --oh, did I mention it was FREE!?
Check them out, small, but they make up for their size with service and quality unmatched for the region.
So far I have dinner reservations at: Albion River Inn, Rendezvous, and Cafe Beaujolais. We will definitely drop by Piaci for lunch! We were disappointed that the Skunk Train's Wine and Crab day was cancelled. Our whole trip was planned around that day, but with these meals and wine tasting during the day it should be a wonderful trip!
re: Lisa Nan
We were in the area last weekend and had just a so-so dinner at Albion. The mixed green salad with marinated veggies and the shellfish apps were good, but the vinegar in the sea bass and the citrus in the crab stuffed sole were way overpowering and made it impossible to taste the seafood. The chocolate moose for desert was okay. At $135 out the door it is safe to say I have had far better for less, including at...
Mondo Bistro in Fort Bragg. We had the 3-course crab dinner, which was absolutely fantastic! $40 gets you a crab bisque with lots & lots of crab, 2 of the best crab cakes ever, and 1/2 of a good-sized Dungeness crab sautéed in a black bean/ginger/soy sauce. And for about another $15 you can get the wine paring with each course.
p.s. If I were to go to Albion River Inn again, I would be sure to select my reservation around the sunset. In the dark the setting is nothing special.
p.s.s. The pizza and beer at Piasi was excellent and shouldn't be missed!
re: Civil Bear
Although the restaurant was slow (Sunday night), the service was perfectly fine that night. No complaints.
Come to think of it, the service was better than at Albion. Even though there was an extra waitperson at Albion to clear plates, we had to poor our own wine, ask for our water glasses to be refilled, and endure a long wait for out check. That said, they were right on top of clearing the plates and bringing out the entrees.
As a restaurant owner(Piaci and V'Canto)in Fort Bragg, I have to mention Chapter & Moon, the Ledford House, the MacCallum House, Mendo Bistro and the Rendezvous, as my favorite area restaurants. That's not to say that there aren't other great restaurants to dine at, but when we eat out, these are the places we frequent the most. You also might like to try Taka's Japanese Grill for sushi, and Taqueria Ricarda for great Mexican fare. Have fun!
Lunch is a hard nut to crack in Bragg. The good news is, you're not completely screwed.
The aforementioned Piaci's is open for lunch. There's also Taqueria Ricarda about six
blocks east on Oak. Ricarda and her taqueria are the spiritual heart of Ft. Bragg. When
Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes his magical novel set in Mendocino, Ricarda will be the
hero. She's godmother to at least half the mexican population of Bragg and has the
photos to prove it. If you happen to be there when everyone else is there, the scene
is pretty remarkable. If you're there alone, it's a cheapfastgood burrito joint. Either
way you can't lose. If you want a beer, don't wait to order it; just get up and take one
from the fridge.
If you're planning a hike, there are a couple of places to grab a sandwich to take along.
Cerino's tiny little hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop on Laurel just east of 1 is a good
choice. Standard sandwich shop fare on good bread for decent prices. You could eat
there on the one little table but it's pretty much a to-go operation.
Down Home Foods is a tiny natural food shop hidden behind the Longs Drug where
1 meets Oak. Good selection of pre-made, organic-y sprouts-y sandwiches on
There's a Safeway on 1 just south of town. There is NO reason to go there. None whatsoever.
See, a bit further south, on the northeast corner of where 20 (the road from Willits) meets
1, hidden up on the hill where you can't see it from the highway, is Harvest Market.
It's not quite the Berkeley Bowl, but close. A large, independant, full-sized grocery store
with the best produce, meat, fish, etc. between SF and Eureka. There's also a guy
with a barbeque in the parking lot making some excellent tri-tip sandwiches. This is
the place to go first for a sandwich. I'm not sure of the winter schedule, but he's there
every day from about noon on in the summer.
Harvest Market also has an extensive, possibly exhaustive, selection of Mendocino County
wines in its wine department. So if you want to pick up some of the local hootch to
bring back home, or suck down at Glass Beach, this is a good place to start.
re: Chuckles the Clone
I am glad to hear that the tri-tip sandwiches are as good as they look, but otherwise I haven't been as impressed with the Harvest Market as you are, after two or three visits. I will say this for Safeway: their bakery is better than the Harvest Market (which admittedly, is not saying much)....
My first visit to Harvest Market, looking for dessert:
I'm surprised. Margaret Fox is running the kitchen there and she seems to know a
thing or two about cooking. But yeah, dessert is not one of the town's strengths.
Best I've come up with is coffee and a slice of random cake at the Headlands Coffeeshop
re: Chuckles the Clone
Harvest Market is the place to go during Crab Season. Oh sure, you could also drop down into the Noyo Harbor area to buy your crab but I prefer the market. Their crab is fresh and they have good prices. And they have a big cooker out front. You can get some crab and pick up other goodies to go with it such as wine and bread. You can eat it on the tables in front of the store (boring) or go sit on a bluff and watch the ocean (more fun).
Fun trip! Here are the culinary highlights up the coast from Jenner to Mendocino, at least for us:
River's Edge, Jenner: great location, good food. Best for lunch
TwoFish Bakery, The Sea Ranch: breakfasts and lunch. Excellent coffee drinks. Artisanal bakery 2 minutes off Route 1 (follow sign at Annapolis Road). Everything's handmade and exceptional. They sell out because they're so popular, so if you're approaching near lunch, call ahead and see if they'll hold an Italian sandwich and a Pizza Margherita (707-785-2443).
Pangaea, Gualala: Great food made from local ingredients whenever possible. If they have the hanger steak get it, it's awesome.
Queenie's, Elk: roadhouse style diner, with great burgers and sandwiches. Mammoth breakfasts
Bridget Dolan's Pub, Elk: gastropub fare, not great but you can do a lot worse. Good back up if you can't get into Queenie's.
Albion River Inn, Albion: very nice, excellent food, wonderful people
Moosse Cafe, Mendocino: exceptional, creative food
Mendocino Cafe, Mendocino: local lunch haunt.
Cafe Beaujolais, Mendocino: now that they don't do breakfast, it's dinner or nothing.
The coast road is long and the pitstops are few, so take plenty of time, drive carefully, stop along the way and enjoy!
One more thing, a warning: Do Not Eat In Nolo Harbor!
Nolo harbor is that extremely attractive place down under the
bridge that you see as you enter Bragg from the south. It totally
screams, "Come on down here for some great seafood!".
It is lying. Essentially everyplace down there is a wildly overpriced
purveyor of poorly cooked badness. It is possible to get something
vaguely decent there, but you need lots of luck in addition to skill.
The fish and chips place is ok. But the fish and chips place at the
top of the bridge is better. Though I woudn't go out of my way for
that one either.
Hmmm, no one's mentioned breakfast. That's a tough one. Best in town
(Mendocino town, that is) is the Bay View Cafe. Climb up the watertower
steps on Main St. into a perfectly servicable breakfast/lunch joint. They
may have dinner too. Basic egg and pancake fare. I think it's the only place
to have breakfast in town if you actually live there because it's seven times
less expensive than the "splendid" places all the tourists eat at.
Excellent view. Friendly people. Good food.
Piaci Pizza in Ft. Bragg is the, and I'm not joking, is the finest pizza on the
west coast. A tiny place serving pizza, beer, and salads. The beer is a nice
selection of interesting local microbrews. The pizzas come in two sizes:
slightly-too-much-for-one and slightly-too-little-for-four. The owner's
from back east and clearly cares very deeply about quality, and has the
taste and skill to back that up.
A tiny place with about 6 stools at a counter and several tables. Sardonic
bartender. It's the only pizza place in Ft. Bragg on the *west* side of rt 1
(which is important to remember because there are several other pizza
possibilities and you don't want to go there). It's across Redwood from
the Mendo Bistro (also good), somewhat hidden in the back.
This should actually be considered a destination for pizza fans. Did I
mention it's also one of the cheapest places in town to eat unless you
head up Oak to Taqueria Ricarda (also, quite good). It doesn't belong here
but it's here and so you should go.
Wow, They seem to maybe have bitten off more than they can chew there with Ardellas.
This was always a highlight for me (and to amaze friends) when going through Willits to the coast.
I sure hope they get it back before the next time I am through there, it sounds like the food is the same recipies, but the kitchen has lost it.
BTW, when in Fort Bragg you must (if you are a beer lover like myself)visit the North Coast brewery. Good food and excellent beers, probably the best brewery in the US for microbrew beers. The Old Rasputin Imperial Stout makes Guiness seem like Coors light!
How recently have you eated at Stevenswood? I believe I read recently that their Chef, Chef Marc Dym, just moved to the Little River Inn. (and there is a new chef at Stevenswood) The only time I ate at Stevenswood when Dym was chef I wasn't really enthusiastic, but he did seem to be willing to take creative risks (which could be bad or good I suppose).
The old Ardellas was great, but I can't recomend them since their move. The meal I had there in September after their move was totally sub par. I ordered an omlette with carmelized onions, arugula and garlic cream cheese. I watched my omlette sit under the heatlamp for half an hour while the homefries were inadaquately warmed up on the grill. When it finally came out, the eggs were cold and rubbery, the cream cheese had not melted at all and the arugula haden't even wilted. The potatoes were cold too.
My bf's Jo's special was equally pitiful compared to what they served up in the old location. Instead of a garlicy scramble of nicely browned ground beef chunks, spinach, and parmesan cheese, he got a luke warm slab of eggs with ground beef and unmelted cheese sprinkled over the top. We were totally unaware of the e coli scare because we had been on a ranch outside of town for a week. We thought that they should have warned us that there wasn't going to be any spinach.
The menu is similar to the old location with a few new items added but the feel is totally different. The space is about four times larger with several booths, a large counter, and a cool terrazzo floor. I was sad that the owners are in the back now, and don't interact with patrons, or feed bacon to neighborhood dogs any more.
I am reluctant to try again because bf's parents who were regulars at the old location say that the kitchen continues to be slow and food arrives cold. I hope they hit their stride soon. If anyone has had more recent experience please post. I'd love to hear that they've improved.
haven't been to Ardella's old or new, but just fwiw: there is NO way I would watch any omelette of mine sitting under a heatlamp for half an hour: I'd either flag someone down, go get it myself, or refuse it when it was served! That is just not an acceptable amount of time....if you do decide to go back, feedback on issues like this could help, I suppose (don't see how it could hurt in any case.)
I have loved Rendezouz Inn in Fort Bragg in the past as well. However, my last visit, about a month ago, was disappointing. The food was good, but not great. I can't even remember what we had, other than that I had a butternut squash soup that was much too heavy and tasted of nothing but cream. No real squash flavor. Never thought I'd complain that something was too rich, but it was!
On top of that, the service was painfully inadequate, with only one server handling everything (and I do mean *everything*: no bussers in site) for the entire room...which of course led to huge waits between courses. he also was gone for long periods of time in the kitchen, leading us to wonder if he was doing most of the prep work as well. I can only hope that about two or three people called in sick that day, and that it was an off night.
In fairness, another couple staying at the same Inn we were at went to Rendevouz for dinner the following night and raved about their experience. Still, for me the food on that visit wasn't worth the waits....
Indeed, it wasn't a great food weekend all the way around. I'd say our lunch at Moose Cafe in Mendocino was only ok: some of the lettuce was browning on my salad. Then we had a disappointing dinner at General's Daughter in Sonoma on the way home. Our two best meals were the picnic we brought with us to eat in the Navarro vineyard, and abalone our friends caught and cooked over the coals at the Van Damme Campground....oh well....
dgb, sorry, but that's very difficult to believe. I have eaten and Mendo Bistro a few times, and not only is the food spectacular, and very fairly priced, but the well-trained servers and the chef-owner and his wife, the manager-owner, have always done everything possible to keep us - and everybody in the place - completely happy.
Well, we ordered our food and when it was ready they placed it on the table along with our glass of wine. We never received any more service. They then brought the bill without asking ever if we wanted more wine (my glass was empty half way through the meal) and never offered us dessert or coffee which we were planning to order. We mentioned the fact that the owner missed out on sales due to the lack of table service and instead of expressing concern, interest or an apology she said that we had several people assigned to our table to serve and she did not see what the problem could be. Is that specific enough for you?
For me such inattention, though annoying and inexcusable, does not constitute what you had previously called "the worst service ever." I am sorry that you had that experience, but our experience has been entirely different on each occasion we have dined there, as has those of friends we have sent there and everybody else that I have ever talked to about the place.